Aging and Joint Pain
To avoid joint pain, try to mix these three types of exercise: aerobic, strength, and flexibility.
Aerobic exercise helps to strengthen your heart, increases your lung capacity, and improves your blood circulation. Strength conditioning helps make you stronger and increases your metabolism and bone density. Flexibility exercises, besides helping you to move more easily (obviously!), keep your joints in good shape and make it less likely that they will be stiff and painful as you get older.
Each of three types of exercise are explored more fully below:
The best way to strengthen your heart muscle is through cardiovascular, or aerobic, exercise. This is activity that will get your heart rate pumped up to between 60 and 90 percent of your recommended maximum heart rate. (To figure your maximum rate, just take 220 and subtract your current age.)
While your body does burn calories constantly through normal functions such as breathing and blood circulation, if you do anything more exciting, your body needs to find some extra energy. It does this by burning glycogen, which is the carbohydrates and fat stored in your body. The most efficient way of burning fat is medium-intensity activities that can be done for a longer period, such as swimming or power walking.
Almost any physical activity you can do will help. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park a little further away from your destination than usual, walk or ride your bike instead of driving. There are ways you can insert regular exercise into your normal life in an organic way – for instance, if you normally watch a lot of TV, get a stationary bicycle or a treadmill and put it in front of the TV, and use it while you’re watching. Thirty minutes a day is all you really need, and three 10-minute bursts of activity will work as well as a single 30-minute workout. The key is to take action and just do something – it almost doesn’t matter what that something is.
If you want something a bit more challenging, you can attend one of the wide varieties of aerobic dance classes at your local health club or community center. The important thing is to find the activities that you enjoy doing, and that fit your current lifestyle and fitness level.
If you have illnesses that restrict your activities, talk to your doctor – there’s most likely something that you can do.
For instance, if you have arthritis, swimming is a very beneficial activity that won’t strain or injure your joints.
Lifting weights is a great way to build strength, become more flexible, and increase your bone density, which is especially of concern to women as they age. Increasing your muscular strength in this way will make such everyday things like climbing stairs or rising from a chair easier when you get older.
By strengthening your muscles in this way, you have more energy and better posture; you’re less likely to suffer muscle-related tears or other injuries; and you will look and feel more attractive.
In addition, building muscle mass increases your metabolism rate, which means you burn fat more efficiently, without going on any unhealthy crash diets. (You may not weigh less after lifting weights for a while, but an increasing amount of your body fat will be transformed into muscle!) Weight training also lowers your cholesterol, reduces stress, and helps prevent a wide variety of diseases.
There are a variety of brands and types of equipment that are commonly used in weight training, from individual dumbbells or barbells to freestanding machines. There are pros and cons of each type of training, although a lot of it will come down to personal preference and what works best for you.
In any strength-training program, the number one concern is always your safety. If you haven’t done any weight training before, take it easy at the beginning. Machines with adjustable resistance are the best place to start out. This gives you the chance to work on specific, isolated muscle groups of your choice, and also lets you keep track of your progress, by slowly increasing the weight and resistance that you’re lifting.
On the other hand, free weights tend to develop your strength more quickly. They develop more muscles at once, as opposed to resistance machines that isolate single muscle groups.
Free weights are more versatile, since you’re not restricted to the machine’s specific motions, although as a result, more coordination is needed to use free weights safely and effectively. Free weights are also much cheaper than machines (if you’re purchasing them for personal use rather than joining a health club), and take up much less space when you’re not using them.
The ideal strength-training program would involve a combination of free weights and resistance machines. If you belong to a health club, there most likely are trainers on staff who can help you develop a personalized strength-training program that’s best suited for you.
Of the three main types of exercise, flexibility is most likely to get overlooked by most people. The benefits from aerobic and strength training are fairly obvious (lose weight, build muscles and strength, get fit generally), but flexibility has its own important part to play, even if its benefits are less obvious.
As you age, however, you will learn more and more to appreciate the benefits you get by regular stretching and other flexibility exercises.
Keeping flexible keeps you more limber and makes many ordinary day-to-day activities much easier and more enjoyable. Being more flexible also helps prevent many kinds of injuries.
If you belong to a health club or otherwise can get access to a qualified personal trainer or physical therapist, you can work out a stretching program tailored to your individual needs, much more beneficial than doing a few generic stretches.
Stretching helps get rid of the tension in your body. Many of us habitually hold tension in various parts of our bodies, often without even being consciously aware of it. The most common tense areas are the chest, shoulder, hamstrings, and hips. When doing any kind of stretching, pay attention to what your body is telling you. Take it slow and easy, especially if you are older, pregnant, or if you are suffering from any kind of injury or disability.
Yoga is an increasingly common practice for people attracted to its many physical, mental, and psychological benefits. There are many different types of yoga, but generally it refers to a system of stretching exercises that improve the functioning of your body’s circulatory, respiratory, and digestive systems, as well as making the body stronger and more flexible. Many people also say that regular yoga practice brings them increased clarity and peace of mind and more emotional stability.
The idea behind yoga is that the health of your spine determines your real age – regular yoga practice keeps your spine flexible, firms up your skin, keeps your chin single (and not double or triple), and helps tone your body and improve your posture. You’re only as old as you feel, and if your body looks and feels younger than your years, then you are younger than your years.
Doing yoga postures stretches your body in many ways and increases the blood flow to areas of your body that don’t always get enough. Your brain and other internal organs will like the increased oxygen that comes from the improved blood circulation. Besides the immediate benefits to your well-being, a regular yoga practice will keep you active and alert in your older years.
Besides the actual physical stretches and postures, a typical yoga class may also include instruction on better breathing, and using various meditation and visualization techniques that help your mind and body to function together at a higher level.
Another popular type of exercise widely taught in classes is the Pilates system, named after its originator, Joseph Pilates. The system dates from the time of World War I, when Pilates wanted to improve the health and morale of his fellow soldiers. Later on, he added the use of resistance springs, and then developed the machines and other equipment now commonly used in Pilates classes. For years the system was mainly used by professional dancers, until the 1980s, when Pilates became widely popular through classes at health clubs and community centers.
The key goal of the Pilates program is to help you improve your mental focus, learn muscle control, and make movements more efficiently and effectively. Some of the ways this is achieved include learning to align your spine properly, strengthening your back and abdomen muscles to promote the healthiest posture, and using your breath to calm and focus your mind and reduce mental chatter.
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